Anyone who has ever written anything online is familiar with stock imagery. It’s thanks to sites like Shutterstock, Pixabay, and Pexels that writers can source pictures for their articles without having to part with a lot of money.
Given that it’s mostly free, the vast range of photographs and illustrations is quite impressive.
It’s also not bad business. In fact, Business Insider recently profiled a stock photographer who makes £6,000 from a single image.
However, even with the resources available, some stories are tricky to illustrate. For those of us who write about science and technology, the concepts we describe can sometimes be a bit abstract. For example, if you’re looking for a photo to illustrate a psychological disorder or virtual currency like Bitcoin.
In these cases, it helps when some photographers and designers are inventive and create abstract photos from their imagination, or take ideas from popular culture.
Business Insider spoke to two stock image contributors Andrew Ostrovsky and Sam Whitton, who have portfolios on Shutterstock, to find out what inspires their creations and where their work often ends up being used for.
Ostrovsky makes illustrations rather than photos, and he is a self-taught graphic designer and photographer. 'In many of my images the final idea emerges in the creative process rather than in the beginning of it,' he said.
Ostrovsky has a fairly scientific background. Both his parents were scientists -- a mathematician and a chemist, but his own education was in medical diagnostics equipment. In this image he merged spheres with lights and sparkles to produce an effect he calls 'digital jewels.'
For this image, Ostrovsky was inspired by the theory that our reality is a computer simulation. He said his ideas come up quite spontaneously, and he gets inspiration from recent books, articles in science magazines, and lectures on philosophy, but he doesn't have the time to fully explore them all.
'First in this image I've played with interaction of spirals and then applied it to illustrate the idea of human connections. The same design could be easily accommodated to illustrate other ideas -- be it interaction between atoms, lovers or network nodes,' Ostrovsky said.
Ostrovsky says the beauty of image stock business is that almost anything attractive-looking sells. For this image he scanned the school work of one of his children and combined it with attractive elements from his graphic library.
'At the time of creation of this image I was practicing drawing human forms in Adobe Illustrator for a couple of hours of day and reading Ray Kurzweil books on Technological Singularity,' Ostrovsky said. 'The idea of possible fusion of our minds and bodies into computer systems or digital storage clouds was in the air and so I've played with lines, numbers and fractal clouds to visualise it.'
Ostrovsky's favourite images to make are the abstract ones where the 'subject of human drama and spirituality interplay with symbols of technology, geometry and maths.'
Astronomy was a passion of Ostrovsky's since he was a child, so he was interested in creating space-like images. He says that over the years he has discovered tools that rival Hubble Space Telescope imagery, and stock agencies often think his work is from NASA.
In this image, Ostrovsky wanted to illustrate idea of a blend between technological and neural networks. He says he doesn't follow where his work goes, but he sees it in technology stories and advertising. 'It is still surprising and very rewarding to discover books and articles of my favourite subjects with my graphics on their cover,' he said.
Whitton has been a photographer since 1996. He works as a graphic designer and got into stock photography because he noticed that the images available weren't always ideal from a graphic designer's perspective.
'I'm interested in the organic shapes created by nature and the natural world which has helped me create interesting, new stock image options, mainly more abstract images,' Whitton said. 'This has also lead to opportunities to shoot more direct science-related images.'
Whitton says his ideas for images usually come from what he can't find in stock libraries. He has a friend who works at a local laboratory that deals with blood samples, and one day he asked to come in and take some photos.
Stock images can often be very American-looking, Whitton said, so he tries to create photos that have a 'distinctive British feel.' Sometimes he follows news trends, but it's mostly about taking opportunities such as at trips to the dentist and networking with people.
'The bubbles shots where done in a Pyrex dish with water and dish soap in. The colour came from different textures placed under the dish,' Whitton said. 'So you see the end result is so much more interesting than the actual set up.'
Whitton says he finds interesting items in everyday life to take photos of. The only downside to stock photography is that you don't necessarily get to see where it ends up. However, Whitton says he has occasionally seen his work in adverts and online banners.
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